The Dugout - Pulis: I don't listen to the critics

Fri, 04 Nov 12:49:00 2011

Exclusive: Stoke City manager Tony Pulis does not care what people say about Stoke City's playing style.

Tony Pulis - 0

You spent 15 years managing in the Football League before winning promotion to the Premier League - how much did that time contribute to your development as a manager?

I did my coaching badges early on in my career as a footballer. Every year I used to go to Lilleshall and watch what I considered to be the best coaches in the world at the time. There was Don Howe, Dave Sexton, Sir Bobby Robson, Terry Venables... people like that. Some outstanding coaches. We had foreign managers coming over as well.

For me, still as a player and a young coach learning, to watch those great people work, listen to them talk and discuss football at that annual Lilleshall week was absolutely fantastic. They were the ones who really inspired me and made me want to go into coaching and management. I personally don't think there is much difference between managing in the different divisions. As a younger manager I was maybe a little bit more 'up and at them' than I am now. I think the world has changed - society has changed - and you have to have a more rounded view of how you deal with your players.

I have always been a firm believer that the club and the team must be built around good people. The job is hard enough to do and it is so important to have those good people around you. I have always worked very hard as a manager to choose my players very carefully, and sometimes I have chosen characters over more technical players.

Just how young were you when you got your badges then?

I passed all of my qualifications when I was 21. I got injured, a bad one that kept me out for about nine months. Dave Burnside, who has passed away now, was in charge of the Gloucester Coaches Association at the time and he persuaded me to do my badges at a very early age. That year I dedicated myself to those qualifications.

How would you describe your football philosophy?

I was never gifted enough to be a top player. So if I didn't succeed early on in my management career then I knew I mightn't be given another chance because I didn't have a great name which meant I could get one job after another. I knew that if I did not do well early on then that would most probably end up with me failing in what I wanted to do. So I've always built a solid base in the centre of the team with respect to winning games. I think as a manager you have to do that. It's a results industry, and if you don't win games then you don't stay in your job.

My biggest thing is to find out about and work with the material I'm given and get the best out of it. If I were in charge of Barcelona or Manchester United then I would expect those players to be technically good enough to keep the ball and play it from back to front in every game. If you haven't got that and are working at Bournemouth or Gillingham, as I did, and you haven't got those technically gifted players then you play to the players' strengths. I think that is a great strength of a manager, knowing what strengths and depths of talent you are working with and then trying to get results from that base.

So your approach is defined by what you inherit at a club, rather than any kind of over-arching ideal?

I think you are given certain material to work with and as a manager you have to make that work, irrespective of what situation you are in. Some managers are blessed because they will work with the top clubs and with the top players who will win you games. What you have to do - whether you are a young manager or someone in my position - is recognise and realise that you will be playing against teams week in, week out who most likely have got more than you have in respect of technical ability, quality and everything else. So you've got to find a way around that to win those matches and to be successful for your football club.

How do you feel Stoke's style of play has evolved since you have been at the club?

I don't care what people think about the style of play. I don't give a damn what people outside of the football club say. If you let yourself get affected by what too many people say then you won't last long in this job. You've got to make sure that you're very single-minded, you're very observant of what you've got and get the best out of that. We've gone from crowds of 11,000 to being sold out every week, and we hope we play in a way that our supporters enjoy. By selling out every week, I think you see that they are enjoying it.

Stoke are now firmly established in the Barclays Premier League and now able to attract high-profile players like Peter Crouch and Wilson Palacios; how satisfying is it for you to have reached this stage in Stoke's ongoing growth as a top-flight club?

I think that this club has been blessed in having the Coates family behind us. They are a local family. Peter was the chairman before, but he did not have the wealth to invest at that stage to make the club successful. Since he's come back, the family has built up Bet365. His daughter, Denise and his son, John have built that company up into a very profitable business. What they have done together is invested and run the football club as it should be run. They deserve a hell of a lot of credit.

A trip to Stoke is now seen as one of the toughest challenges on the fixture list - how big a factor in your progress has the Britannia Stadium crowd been, and why are your fans so noisy?

When we got promoted we played Bolton in our first game, and we were beaten 3-1. The bookmakers wrote us off straight away and paid out on us getting relegated. I think that inspired everyone - not only the players, the staff and myself, but the whole community. It was a call to arms that everybody stood up and took. If you come to visit us now then I think it is as close as you'll get to a community club anywhere in the country. Everybody is united in wanting to see this club pushing on.

What has been your proudest achievement as a manager?

That is a difficult question. Starting off in my early days at Bournemouth, I realised what it is like to wheel and deal, to have to sell most of our good players because the club was in financial trouble and experienced bringing in new players and then having to sell them too. All of that taught me how to manage and respect finances. In four years at Gillingham, I took a club that was one game away from going out of the Football League and put a team together that eventually established itself as a mid-table team in the Championship. That was really a point of learning how to build a football club. Survival in my first year with Stoke was fantastic. To keep them up that year when everyone thought we would most probably go down was a great achievement.

But everyone will look at the promotion year and say that taking a team from the Championship into the Barclays Premier League, when we had an average wage bill and nobody fancied us. I suppose that is a great achievement - keeping them in that league for four years, getting to an FA Cup final and getting into Europe ain't too bad neither. It's very difficult to choose. It's been a work in progress and a great ride so far.

You have been quite open in saying the club's best chance of silverware is in a cup competition. Does it surprise you when some teams play a weakened team in cup games in order to concentrate on the league?

The one thing we have to realise is that the Barclays Premier League is that golden egg. The money that you receive from staying in the Premier League is enormous. It enables you to build your football club. Look at where we were when we got into the Premier League and then look at us now with the training ground, the facilities and the structure we have put in place. The Coates family have helped enormously, but we have also earned a lot of money from staying in the Premier League.

How have you found the experience of being in the Europa League, and how has it changed the way you have to manage your playing resources?

I think it has been brilliant for the supporters. It's the first time in 30-odd years that the club has been in Europe, so the supporters have really taken to it. We've filled every game we have played at the Britannia, and the Thursday nights have been special. The big disappointment for us was that we got drawn against three teams who are all on the other side of Europe, and none of them are really close enough for the supporters to go on an away trip en masse and have a great time. It's an extra motivation to get through the group and hopefully get drawn against a team where the fans can go away en masse and have a great time.

Rory Delap recently said that Ryan Shotton could be his successor at taking long throws - how much time do you spend devising tactics for throw-ins, and do the players practise their long throws?

About five minutes on a Friday before a game! You wouldn't believe how little time we spend on them.

Do you think a lot of people make more of a deal of it than it really is?

When we played Newcastle, Ryan Taylor was hurling them in long. Everybody initially criticised it because it was successful, and the big teams especially didn't like it. They didn't like playing against it. But now you even see Gareth Bale throwing long balls into the box. People have picked up on it, but it's not just Stoke City using it any more. It's an amazing thing that people have taken to it. It's made Rory very famous, or infamous, and he's such a great lad and a great character that I'm very pleased for him.

The people who moaned about it most were the people who couldn't deal with it. That will always be the case. They'll be trying to get a rule change to stop it. But it's exciting and our supporters love it, and teams don't like defending against it.

Why did you quickly change into your tracksuit and cap for the FA Cup final? Is it a superstition, or just what you feel comfortable wearing?

I prefer being in a tracksuit. When the game kicks off that's my working day starting. I'm just much more comfortable in a tracksuit, no disrespect to those who wear suits. If people want to dress up in a suit to watch a game of football, that's fine.

How did you get into running marathons, and do you plan to run more in future?

I ran a marathon when I was 40, while I was at Gillingham, and enjoyed it - but my wife went mad at me for doing it. I climbed Kilimanjaro a couple of years ago, and she reckons I get enough stress as it is without doing all these stupid things. I promised her I would only do one every 10 years, and I did one again when I was 50. So if I make it through to 60 I'll do another one and then we'll see where we go from there. I like to do it every 10 years just to show I can still do it.